CHICAGO -- Camila Rodriguez plays baseball -- as opposed to softball -- in part for one reason.
“I’m able to compete with boys,” Rodriguez said during the MLB GRIT: Girls ID Tour stop in Chicago on Sunday. “I’m able to give them a challenge, so if I want to play the sport, then I can.”
Hosted at the Pullman Community Center -- nine miles away from Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox -- the four-hour showcase gave young women aged 12 to 17 an opportunity to compete and possibly advance toward other developmental opportunities within MLB’s ongoing effort to progress young women’s involvement on the field.
Chicago served as the fifth and final regional showcase. Previous stops included Compton and San Francisco, Calif., Vero Beach, Fla., and Glendale, Ariz.
Approximately 30 teens from the Chicago area participated. Rodriguez was one of eight who are members of Team Chaneyville, an all-girls U-13 baseball team that is funded by White Sox Charities.
An open application process for those programs is also offered.
Sarah Padove, MLB’s manager of baseball and softball development, says these talent showcases serve two purposes: to bring female baseball players together for the opportunity to play against one another, and to identify candidates for the larger development pipeline.
“At the end of the day, this kind of stuff did not exist at all when I was playing,” said Padove, who balanced baseball and softball when she was growing up in Hammond, Ind. “… I can’t ever remember being with other girls playing baseball.
“You talk to some of our women’s national team players from USA Baseball now, and they say the same thing. Just having these types of programs [is important]; that’s why so many of them are willing to give back. And it really does, it drives all of us.”
The overall feedback from the participants of the showcases was just as positive, according to Padove.
“Every single one of these athletes was super excited to be out here,” she said. “It’s not often that they’re in an evaluation-style event, so I think for them, they’re competitive. At the end of the day, they want to compete and they want to get a chance to come to these other events. … Even though they’re getting evaluated, we have an awesome coaching staff here with the support from both the Cubs and the Sox youth programs.”
Emma Gordon, a 12-year-old from Chicago, discovered her love for baseball after attending her first Cubs game seven years ago.
Shortly afterward, her young baseball career sprouted and she has played ever since, while also juggling playing other sports. Gordon says she is currently the only girl on her Oz Park travel boys baseball team.
“I want to play [baseball] with girls,” Gordon said. “This [event] is the only place I can do that. I don’t meet a lot of girls who play baseball; there’s only a couple in the entire Oz [league].
“I just really love the sport. I just love going out and playing … I just love the way [baseball] is structured. It was different than every other sport.”
Zoe Nance, a 13-year-old from Chicago, was drawn to baseball because it seemed “a lot [more] fun than softball.”
“… I never knew there [were] this [many] girls playing baseball,” Nance said. “When I found a team, it just made me really happy, because I finally [felt] like I could fit in.”
Kindu Jones, MLB’s senior coordinator for baseball development, served as one of the on-field evaluators.
“I’ve been loving the game my whole life,” Jones said. “Being in this department where we focus on boys and girls at the grassroots level, all the way up to the high school level from a development standpoint -- [it’s] very important to go into cities that we don’t really get a chance to touch as much. [It’s] important for us to continue to grow the game. This is just another way for us to continue to grow the game.
“It’s to expose these young girls to workouts like these that they’ll ultimately continue to keep doing, continue to keep playing this game. At the same time, try to show them about work ethic. Try to show them about sportsmanship. Try to show them about teamwork.”
Prior to breaking off for group warmups to open the event, Jones imparted a sage reminder of what it’s all about.
“'Let’s be encouraging,'” he said. “'Remember, we’re all sisters.'”